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[Op-Ed] Qualifications of a News Anchor

Posted July. 22, 2009 07:03,   


Chung Dong-young, an independent lawmaker and former presidential candidate of the now-defunct Uri Party, the predecessor of the main opposition Democratic Party, appeared at a National Assembly plenary session last week to express official greetings on behalf of five newly elected lawmakers. This came 77 days after they were elected to parliament in the April 29 by-elections. “I think that the National Assembly’s refusal to pass a media reform bill, which has nothing to do with economic recovery and will bring about a political catastrophe, is part of politics,” Chung said. Taken aback by his comments at the plenary session, lawmakers from the ruling Grand National Party shouted at him and told him to shut up. Apparently impressed by Chung’s comments and believing them to be a news anchor’s comment, Democratic Party lawmakers shouted back to ruling party counterparts, “Be quiet!”

The late U.S. news anchorman Walter Cronkite, who died Friday, used to call an anchor not a commentator but a news presenter. He always ended his evening newscast by saying, “And that’s the way it is.” This ending sums up Cronkite’s view on the ideal role of anchors, who should broadcast news as it is. Such objectivity earned him the nickname “the most trusted man in America” while anchoring the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981. U.S. President Barack Obama also praised Cronkite’s objectivity, saying, “Walter set the standard by which all others have been judged.”

On the contrary, Shin Gyeong-min, the anchor of MBC’s Newsdesk from March last year to April this year, ended his newscast with his personal comment. On one occasion, Shin said, “Both former Cabinet member Chung Dong-young, who fought for a nomination in the parliamentary elections in his hometown, and Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun, who sought to prevent him from doing so, look pathetic,” and “Former President Roh Moo-hyun’s judgment of his older brother is turning out to be a far cry from what his older brother really is,” on another occasion. Shin said in a March interview that he rejected an offer from the Democratic Party to run in the parliamentary by-elections. MBC and the opposition party have something in common in that they consider broadcasting as a means to advance their interests.

At the end of last year, Park Hye-jin, the anchorwoman of the same news program, was disciplined by the Korea Communications Standards Commission for criticizing broadcast law on the show. The commission said she violated her duty to remain objective and fair. MBC anchors started boycotting broadcasting to protest media reform bills yesterday. It is questionable whether they can resume work with a stern expression showing objectivity and whether the public can trust the news presented by them.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)